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PAM FRAMPTON: A fond farewell to John Crosbie

John Crosbie in the 1970s. It’s hard to imagine Newfoundland and Labrador without him. — Evening Telegram file photos
John Crosbie in the 1970s. It’s hard to imagine Newfoundland and Labrador without him. — Evening Telegram file photos

A 20-something rookie reporter, my nerves were jangling as I stood in the porch of John and Jane Crosbie’s house in St. Philip’s.

It was 1992, not too long after Crosbie had announced the moratorium on northern cod, and Jane had agreed to an interview about her life as the wife of one of the most high-profile, brash and outspoken politicians in the country.

I heard a scuffing noise and looked up to see Crosbie shuffling towards me, dressed casually and wearing brown leather slippers.

“Jane,” he called back over his shoulder in his trademark deadpan drawl, “the little girl from The Telegram is here.”

And so began a professional relationship that spanned 30 years.

Jane agreed to playfully don boxing gloves that day for a photo, signifying her intention to fight all of life’s battles by her husband’s side.

She told me about how they met and how he filled up her entire dance card one night, so that no one else would have the pleasure.

An avid traveller, and enthusiastic in her praise of all things Thailand, she said John was considered a sex symbol there because of his voluptuous earlobes.

That they had been smitten for life was evident whenever I saw them together, and so it was Jane I thought of first when I heard of Crosbie’s death on Friday. But I am saddened not just for Jane and their family, though I am deeply sorry for their loss; I’m saddened for the rest of us, too, because we won’t see his like again.

He loved language and used it to his and its best advantage. He had a sharp, martini-dry wit and a broad sense of humour that ran to the risqué.

Whether you agreed with Crosbie’s politics or not (or condoned his political incorrectness) you could not deny his unyielding passion for this hardscrabble place, his lack of hypocrisy or his unwillingness to suffer fools — gladly, badly or any way at all. He was a maverick, masterful and unflinching; a standout politician in an arena where it can be easy to wriggle away from tough questions or to deflect or demur. John Crosbie strode into politics with his eyes wide open and his brain and mouth in perfect synchronization. He ducked away from nothing.

As angry fishermen could be heard banging on doors trying to force their way into the ballroom on that day in July 1992 when Crosbie was announcing the closure of the cod fishery — the lifeblood of Newfoundland for centuries — he did not bat an eye. Though he would later say it was his toughest moment as a politician — can you think of anyone else from this province who would have the guts to shut down the fishery? — he was calm and clear-eyed amid the escalating ire and emotion.

“They don’t need to go berserk, trying to batter on doors to frighten me,” he said.

Unlike many of today’s politicians, he was brutally honest when questioned and never sought to obfuscate or equivocate. He loved language and used it to his and its best advantage. He had a sharp, martini-dry wit and a broad sense of humour that ran to the risqué.

In 2013, after politics, he began writing a column for The Telegram, and I was his editor.

Anyone familiar with my own work may understand why I edited his first instalment with gritted teeth: “A matter of great importance involving our province is the Muskrat Falls project, which I strongly support,” he wrote.

Truth be told, I was more seamstress than editor. Crosbie was a highly skilled orator, but in print his thoughts were less fully formed, and I often found myself stitching together columns from his written notes.

But I loved when he would drop by our newsroom in person. I’d greet him and ask him to follow me to my office, and I’d be halfway there before I realized he was yards behind me, shuffling along at a slower pace by then.

I like to think he enjoyed our meetings, too.

“Miss Frampton,” he’d say, settling into a chair and leaning forward with a glint in his eye, “did I tell you about the cabinet minister in Ottawa who got caught in flagrante with a lady of ill repute…?”

Godspeed, Mr. Crosbie. We’ll miss you.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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